Latino Culture: On being a dad.

Allow me to give you some context on my circumstances.

I am on a 2nd marriage, numero dos, my first marriage produced my reason for existing, my son, mi hijo. He lives with his mom, and spends weekends with me, holidays, etc. He happens to go to school right across the street from me. My school district is much better than his zone, so we enrolled him by me. Better school, greater chance of success. End context.

Every once in a while I see him on my walk to the subway as he walks to school. I always give him a kiss and a hug. This morning I was walking into the subway as he and his mom were exiting, so I quickly rubbed his head lovingly and kept moving, I didn’t get to hug him as any New Yorker knows that you don’t stop moving in crowded, morning rush hour stairwell traffic!

As I continued to walk, I felt bad. My son just walked by me and I didn’t get to hug him. My son who should be with his father always.  My thoughts are on my son, the little man with the “angry birds” shirt that just smiled at me, the little man whom just walked pass me on a subway stairwell. My son.

This moment I’m having with myself brings to light a much greater issue that we as a people face in this country. I was researching Latino divorce rates to present some facts and figures, and I found it intriguing that statistically our divorce rate is actually 2nd to Asians in this country. Various sources confirm that, some data is slightly old, yet this type of data usually takes years to compile.

As I was reading and researching this though, I realized that in order to get a divorce, you have to be married first. How many of our people actually get married? That being considered I decided that this was not a good measure of data for this article. Perhaps we are better suited to ask why according to the CDC over 50% of child birth among hispanics were from unmarried mothers?

Let’s move pass that and ask why are so many of us Latino men, and others alike not with our children? Be it due to divorce, separation, breaking up, or by some other circumstance like prison, drugs, many fathers are not with their children.

It’s a vicious cycle, I initially titled this “I am my father’s son” because my father did my mom wrong, he was unfaithful, they fought plenty and ultimately he was gone from our home. My dad became a weekend warrior dad, now fast forward some 25 years later, and here we are, like father like son. I only hope the chain stops here. As a father, nothing breaks my heart more, nothing stings and makes me feel the great slap of regret in life, than when my son asks me “why don’t we live together”. Or when I have to drop my son off and say goodbye to him, and walk away. It’s a heart wrenching feeling.

With each generation a family is supposed to improve. I did improve to a degree, yet I failed in others. I finished college, I have a great job, and though things got messed up at home, I am still a great father to my son. I am always present and I take great care of him. But isn’t a shame that in this society, people are surprised when a man says “I take care of my kids”. People have applauded me and said things like “Wow, you are a real man, you take care of your kids”. What do you mean, isn’t that what a father is supposed to do?

I read this article on the library of congress (don’t ask me why I was reading an article On the library of congress) where men in prison were provided with free greeting cards to send to their mothers, and nearly every man participated in this program. Later motivated by the turnout, the same thing was offered for fathers, nobody participated. Why is that? Because daddy wasn’t around, most of them didn’t know their fathers, is it no wonder that they ended up in prison? There is a direct correlation between absentee fathers and juvenile delinquents. It is a sad reality in this urban culture, and in our Latino culture. I could tell you so many cases where I know of men who are not there for their kids, at all. It’s disgusting.

Personally I can’t understand how a man can father a child and abandon them. Yes, I am divorced and I don’t live with my son, but my son knows me, he knows me well as his dad, as his father. I am his protector, his friend, confidant, advisor, and financial provider. I share these roles with his mother, along with the role of authority when he gets a little uppity and needs to be checked. He seems to fear and respect me more than he does anyone else, and that was earned with only words and actions, never violence. We tend to rely on power and intimidation to get what we want, but as a father, I have achieved my connection with my son through an open, honest relationship. Stern only when necessary, but regardless, mutual respect is always given. I respect my son, and he respects me, that respect further translates into a deeper connection and love for one another. My son and I have a very strong bond, one to rival many a parent that actually lives with their child.

My message to my brothers out there is the following: be a father, if you have a child then simply be a father. If you create a beautiful little nene or nena, be there for them. The kids need a father. I understand sometimes things don’t work out with a marriage, and I’m not questioning that. I know, I have been there, and your reasons are your reasons, but the kid is never at fault, and they should not suffer neglect or abandonment because you and mom split up. What I am saying, is regardless of what happens between you and your “baby’s mamita”, you should be there as a father for your hijos.

I want my son to have a bright future, I want him to go to college, I want him to succeed! I want my son to improve on my achievements. He carries the torch for my familia, he is the next generation, the next improvement. What better way to put the odds in his favor than being there for him, giving him all I can, even if I just give him a hug in the am on the way to our respective locations.

As people what can we do, to not only improve this condition among Latinos, but for society as a whole? Please sound off in the comments with any suggestions you may have, or any views you would like to contribute.

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